Christmas is a fantastic time of year, but it can take its toll on the environment. Did you know we throw away 2 million turkeys, 1 billion cards and enough wrapping paper to reach the Moon every year? These are frightening figures, but it doesn't have to be that way - you can still enjoy the festivities while limiting your environmental impact. Here's our round up of how to responsibly dispose of your unwanted holiday-related waste, from cards and trees to wrapping and food.

Top tip

Check your local council's website to find out what can go in your recycling bin.

Christmas cards

After cutting off any glitter or other unrecyclable embellishments, Christmas cards can be put in household recycling in most areas. If your council doesn't accept card, pop down to your local recycling centre instead.

Before recycling, consider whether you can get any more use out of your cards. You could:

  • get creative and upcycle them into decorations or gift tags for next Christmas
  • cut them into pieces and use coloured shapes for crafting and plain leftovers for shopping lists and notes.

Our Christmas card recycling scheme is no longer running

From 2008 to 2016, we worked with Marks and Spencer to plant a tree for every 1,000 cards recycled. Thanks to your efforts, we got more than 51,000 trees in the ground. The scheme is no longer running - M&S now supports the Trust through its Sparks members club, donating 1p to us for every transaction. Sign up today - or buy and plant a tree yourself.

Real Christmas trees

Millions of real Christmas trees end up in landfill every year. While some might assume this is ok as it's natural material that will rot down, that's unfortunately not the case. It takes years to decompose in landfill, during which it will release methane which is harmful to the environment. Do your bit for the planet and dispose of your tree in an environmentally-friendly way:

  • chop it up and add it to your own compost heap or garden waste bin if you have one
  • take it to the garden waste section of your nearest recycling centre
  • see if any local recycling schemes will collect it on behalf of the council or charity.

Artificial Christmas trees

Fake trees aren't recyclable, so unless they're completely unusable, put them away to use again next year or donate them to charity.

Top tip

Minimise waste next Christmas by planning ahead. Follow and share our tips for an eco-friendly and sustainable Christmas.

Wrapping paper

Wrapping paper recycling depends on what material it's made from. Anything with glitter or foil is an instant no-no.

If you're not sure, a quick and easy way to check is the scrunch test. Scrunch the paper into a ball. If it stays closed, it's recyclable - though any plastic tape, ribbons and tags need removing first.

If it springs open again, it can't be recycled - but try to think of ways to reuse it before resorting to the general waste bin. Can you use it as wrapping again, or repurpose it for crafting?

Tissue paper can often be reused and if made from recycled materials, it can eventually be composted.

Lots of gift packaging still has plenty of life left in it after being opened just once, so try to reuse it wherever you can. I haven't bought a gift bag in years! 

Leftover food

Excess food is a common challenge during the Christmas period. Good advanced planning is the best way to avoid this, but if you've found yourself with a surplus, consider:

  • the best way to store it. Airtight containers or placing in the fridge or freezer can extend the life of many foods.
  • get creative in the kitchen to transform the remains of Christmas meals into irresistible new dishes. Think outside the box and ditch the turkey sandwiches and stews in favour of pies, pizzas, crumbles and cookies. A quick online search will reveal recipes for every skill level!
  • give your surplus to someone who will use it. List it on a food sharing app like OLIO or donate it to a local soup kitchen, food bank or shelter.

Unwanted gifts

We've all been there - clothes the wrong size, flavours we can't face or things we just won't ever use. While delivering it straight to the dustbin might be the quickest way to see the back of it, someone somewhere will appreciate it! Keep it out of landfill by:

  • regifting it
  • selling online - or list it free
  • donating to less-fortunate or giving to a charity shop.

Explore more ways to reduce waste and save the planet